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Lessons from a Bold Plan

It was an audacious plan from the start to sequence the human genome. In Nature this week marking the 25th anniversary of the project's launch, three architects of the Human Genome Project write that it was biology's first large-scale project and set the stage for more to come.

Eric Green, director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, James Watson, chancellor emeritus at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins write that six main lessons could be taken away form the Human Genome Project.

First, the trio writes that that the effort encouraged researchers to accept partnerships and defied the norm of individual researchers working in isolation. In addition, the project also altered expectations regarding data sharing. Green, Watson, and Collins note, though, that data sharing is still presenting some computational and logistical challenges. Relatedly, they say that one flaw of the project was its limited plan for data analysis, though that add they more recent effort like the 1,000 Genomes Project and The Cancer Genome Atlas incorporated analysis plans earlier and that helped inform their data generation approaches.

They further note the HGP emphasized technology development and included studies of how the project might influence society. Lastly, Green, Watson, and Collins say that its success was due to "the continued open-mindedness of the scientific leaders, and the regular pauses they took to take stock."

"The story of the HGP provides a valuable reminder that some of these advances will almost certainly trigger fundamental changes in the way that research is done — as well as a reminder of the importance of accepting and celebrating those changes," they add.